Recent Comments

Kristen A. Traynor

The imagery of the GTMO cell inside of the Eastern State cell is very powerful. It shows our distrust and animosity toward the prisoners, as well as the tension between privacy and fear of evil that has been ever present since the War on Terror began. I think your piece captures those sentiments nicely. The observers can imagine being in each of those cells and enduring the ways in which the outside world would view them. It brings to light the differences in the ideas and intentions behind the creation of each space.

On another note, the GTMO cell seems more like a cage in comparison to the Eastern State cell. This corresponds with the attempts at dehumanization that are often present in times of war. For many, it is easier to attack the enemy if its people are seen as less than human or pure evil. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on that.

Alexandra Moore

I’m intrigued by the prison officials who invite (?) curators to offer a “critical light on imprisonment” through their artwork and installations within the prison complex. Can you say more about the relationships that make that exchange possible? I wonder, too, about the visitors to the museum/exhibit.

I appreciate your comment about the two prisons’ contradictory approaches to their captives. The staging of the Guantanamo cell inside the penitentiary also reminded me of the institutional, procedural, and personnel linkages between the GTMO and the domestic prison system.

Rethinking Thinkpieces
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Thank you for the link to the article by the Wesleyan President. Does that count as a think piece? It’s funny to think that as an approach on the wane, and thus myself as a bit behind the times, given that it still feels like there is resistance to helping our students think for themselves in many circles in academia.

I appreciate the focus on the way that think pieces frame the meanings we may make out of popular culture, and particular pop culture artifacts, and thus have a “truncating” or limiting effect on our own “authentic” (problematic quotes) experience of the text. A useful historical parallel for this might be the rise of art, lit, and film critics as mediators and even arbiters of what art, lit, and film mean and how they are valued. Perhaps what the think piece does is simply de-specialize (I hesitate to use the term democratize) that function, making it widely available for use by almost anyone with internet access and on almost any object or text.

Rethinking Thinkpieces
Michael Lawrence

Thanks Aaron —

Yes! It does seem like we’re seeing the ripple effects of what we’ve been teaching for the last few decades — coming back to haunt us, as it were.

Though I’d disagree on one point — I think the “teaching critical thinking” movement may actually be on the wane, giving way perhaps to new kinds of fundamental literacies — coding, “design thinking,” etc. See for example this editorial by the president of Wesleyan http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/young-minds-in-critical-condition/?_r=0

As for the significance of the recontextualization of pop culture by way of think pieces — In some ways, they’re just allowing, say, a pop song, to be “more” than a pop song the way that pop songs always have been ‘more than.’ They’ve always been shared as an expression of love (mix tapes), experienced together with a group of friends, etc. But perhaps the think piece can make that secondary function spread faster than exposure to the text itself. For example, my first exposure to any new Beyonce song is likely to be by way of a social media post about the song — and that post is likely to take the form of a link to a think piece. By the time I actually get around to hearing the piece of music, it’s already been framed for me by the various headlines about it. One might argue that the space for both “my own thinking” and “my own experience of the song” gets truncated.

Another possible significance, which connects back to the first point you raise, is that in the context of the sometimes thin, poorly developed pop criticism offered by think pieces, we see very important kinds of critical engagement with culture get made to look rather vapid — perhaps adding fuel to the fire of various crusades against teaching critical thinking, cultural studies, etc.

Rethinking Thinkpieces
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Great slideshow and post Mike, thank you.

Do you think that the rise of the “think piece” is at all correlated to the rise in an academic emphasis on “critical thinking” at the collegiate level? It seems to me like there’s been an increasing emphasis on critical thinking in the last 10-15 years. What are all of those “critically thinking” alumni to do once they’re out in the world to scratch their newfound itch? Isn’t this what we academics have wanted from our students—engaged members of society who can think about cultural phenomena beyond the surface level (if only just beyond that surface level sometimes)?

I appreciate making the connection for how this work is productive of something, whether it’s community formation, value policing, or just free labor for marketers.

I’m wondering if you could also say a little bit more about the significance of the recontextualization of popular culture that happens via the think piece.

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Problematizing what the audience is laughing at reminds me of the Chappelle Show and Bamboozled…

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Brianni Nelson

In your example, crossing over isn’t always a positive thing, I more so meant it (here) in a kind of collective remix/editing culture kind of way. I think that is a positive, when different genres are being introduced to one another and remade in new, creative ways. There’s just levels to it, where we quickly go from “oh, that’s a fun thing to share” to “oh, well I can engage with this other thing because it’s not so abrasive or scary or (other black adjective).”

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Brianni Nelson

I would say that stripped down can represent both completely removing something altogether and just leaving very small traces of it. For either though, it falls on the audience member to decipher what is/is not there and then decide (immediately in most cases) whether or not they find the object funny. When parts are reduced or missing and you understand it, then it’s funny. My concern is that people can still laugh and not understand that there’s relevant context missing … so, exactly, what is it that they are laughing at?

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

I’m interested in what you mean by “transcending boundaries” here. It reminds me a little of the use of “cross-over” in U.S. music circles, which we know refers to when a song written by a person of color (most often an African-American) appeals to white people because much of the cultural specificity is either missing or illegible to that audience. I’m not always sure that transcending boundaries is a good thing in that regard.

Why You Always Lying Meme - Image of Creator, Nicholas Fraser
Aaron Dickinson Sachs

Stripped down implies that it is taken out, but it seems like what is really happening is that it’s condensed into a citational style that allows some people to read the text as dense while others read it as stripped down.